Monday, April 04, 2011

Democracy is NOT Petitions & Demands

Over the past few days since the Kuwaiti Government resigned, everyone's been talking about the petition that's being prepared to be submitted to His Highness the Emir, asking him to choose a new Prime Minister instead of H.E. Nasser Al Mohammed. Someone who, according to the petition, comes to us with a new approach and a new light on the needs and demands of the state and it's people. Personally, I have not participated in this petition, nor do I support it, even though I support the organizers' decision to participate in this petition, as it is their constitutional and inviolable right to do so, come what may. Article 45 of the Kuwaiti Constitution clearly safeguards that right, and no one may question that right so long as it's part of the Constitution.
To that end, I believe that the petition is not much more than a PR stunt by the organizers to prove that they they control the masses, and will ultimately control the powers of the state. That's my own point of view, dark as it may seem, but mine nonetheless, based on past history and current events. Ironically, the same Constitution that gives the right to petition the government also gives the Emir the right to select whoever he sees fit, after the 'traditional' round of discussions and consultations, and that's stipulated in Article 56. So ultimately, and historically, it's Article 56 that takes precedence over Article 45, making the petition, in my humble opinion, a futile effort.
A Petition Center

However, and as I've discovered with my Twitter discussion with fellow Blogger Forza lately, futility is not in the Kuwaiti people's dictionary, since, despite this Constitutional anomaly, hundreds of people turned up to sign the petition, all of them calling for a new Prime Minister and a new approach to managing the government. Some of the MP's that are signatories of this petition have also been called to meet with His Highness the Emir, as part of his consultations, and were quite vocal in their desires to put their opinions through to him.

Admirable, I have to say, and very Democratic of 'us' to live in such an atmosphere of freedom and choice. However, the problem doesn't lie with the Petition itself, but with it's ultimate worth, and since any effort is evaluated by the impact it makes, I believe that, in light of Article 56, the Petition isn't worth the effort.

Some may argue that the Emir is not a public authority but the Head Of State, and therefore Article 45 does not apply, I call that 'nitpicking' myself, but since i'm not a lawyer, I can't say for certain whether this argument has merit. In any case, 'tradition' in Kuwait involves the Emir consulting many various figures, and given the nature of our social DNA, that can also mean that He may visit the Diwans, or even send 'feelers' to extrapolate their opinions quietly, as well as publicly meeting with MP's or Merchants or whatever. I'm sure that what we don't hear far outweighs what we do hear.

The Late Sh. Abdulla Al Salem
receiving the Constitution
Let's also not forget that HH the Emir has a family as well, and that this family has produced many viable leaders and managers who have their aspirations and dreams of becoming Prime Ministers, much like the rest of Kuwait. It comes as no surprise that they too may be susceptible to polarization much like the rest of the Kuwaiti society, and may form unofficial power groups who may support this candidate or that. HH the Emir must also address this part of the equation when selecting a new Prime Minister as well. Such has been our way of life for more than 50 years of Democracy. Having said that, nowhere in the Constitution does it state that the Prime Minister 'must' be selected from the Ruling Family, so there may be a Constitutional loophole that could allow a non-Al Sabah to be elected into the office of the PM, but so fare there has been no precedence.

To that, many are now expressing their desire to have a Prime Minister that would be selected from among the masses, and not necessarily from the Ruling family. Now, I have a problem with that, not because I support the Ruling family or the PM, but because I support the Constitution, as well as it's revision. To have a Prime Minister be selected from the masses, one must first consider the dynamics of this step. For a Democracy to function properly, the majority's decision must be respected by the Minority, while the Minority's decisions are respected and safeguarded. In order to have this 'majority-minority' balance, political parties must be represented in Parliament, officially and transparently. By definition, that means that the establishment of Political Parties must commence, and when they reach parliament, the present and elect from amongst themselves whom they see fit to take up the office of the Prime Minister.
Imagine this Guy being
a Prime Minister?

Practically, that means the ICM, or Hadas, becomes an official Political Party, as does the NDA, or the Liberals, the Popular Action Bloc and all others. Once in office, each select a candidate from among them. So Hadas selects Jem'aan Al Herbish, for example, and the NDA selects Saleh Al Mulla and the PAB selects Al Sa'doun and so on, and whoever receives the majority of votes in Parliament gets to be the Prime Minister.

The next step is for the PM to construct his Cabinet of Ministers. If he was from Hadas, it stands to reason that that majority (if not all) of his cabinet will be from Hadas, including the Minister of Interior, Defense, Economy, etc...Sure, there may be concessions to this party and that over some of the seats in Government, or even exclusive reservations to specific Political Parties for some of them, but in general, the overall approach of that wholly-elected Government would be in line with the general Politics of the party that gained the most votes. And selecting the new Ministers would not be based on skills & experience, but on political clout and favortism. Not that it's not happening now, but imaging if it happened across ALL ministries!?

Case in Point; Today's Alwatan reports that the Minister of Communications is about to reward over 50% of the Ministry's staff for excellent services, while at the same time, today's Al Qabas ran a story the depicts gross (and almost criminal) misuse of Government Property! I'll have to assume that this reward comes amid political pressures and back-room dealings between HADAS and the Popular Action Bloc, or some other group! It'll be this way as well if Kuwait has open and public political parties, only then, it'll be more open!

Dr. Mohammed Al Busairy
Minister of Communications
That, to me, is a 'nightmare' scenario and for very good reasons, too lengthy to discuss in this post (I've blogged about this before), but I'm sure you get the idea. Nevertheless, I'm for it, especially if adequate checks and balances are in effect.

Grim as it may sound, this is the price of Democracy; In order to be 'Democratic' you must endure the bitter as well as the sweet. But it's not a complete mess. With this structure in effect, you'll see a more visible role for the Political Parties, you'll have more exposure to their political mindset, and you'll eventually be more aware of their agendas and affiliations. The good will separate itself from the not-so-good, and socio-political polarization will finally become something to be celebrated, not feared.

However, for all this to take place, it must be built from the ground up, and in the right place, the Parliament. My gripe with the recent petition is not it's legality, but it's method. Instead of the people petitioning the Government, the people should petition the MP's who represent them in Government. We should pressure them into effecting many changes in the Constitution that would enable us to select a PM from the masses, by passing the required laws and bills 'in Parliament', not in it's front yard. That's why we elected them in the first place, to speak in our name and to cater to our demands. If any of them was worth his or her salt, they would take this petition and discuss it in Parliament, not simply sign it.

And if, for some reason, the Government opposes this change, the MP's should use their Constitutional tools to remove the opposition. Remember, the Government only holds 1/3 of the house, with the remaining 2/3's residing with the MP's, or 'us, the people'. The fact that the only tool in their possession is the power of interpellation and Parliamentary questioning is no excuse; they could form a unified front in parliament and force the Government to accede to their demands, which are also ours by proxy
Kuwaiti Parliament

OK, so many MP's have been accused of backing the government at every turn, and as a result, the Parliament may not come to a consensus or even a simple majority. Here we, the people, exercise our Constitutional rights to NOT VOTE FOR THESE PEOPLE AGAIN!

And herein lies the dilemma, since we're so inclined, as a people, to vote for whoever graces us with their presence in our Diwans, or fixes it so that our requirements from the Government Ministries are completed, we've grown accustomed to the fact that we'll vote for whoever owes us a favor! With effective Political Parties in full view of everyone, and (hopefully) properly-distributed electoral district system, we would eventually be able to vote for the right representative, and not the most helpful, and hopefully on our way towards a true and honest Democracy. At worst, things remain as they are, and the Emir would still be able to exercise his Constitutional rights, despite public opinion.

So, there it is. That's why I believe that the recent petition drive was a 'stupid' event, given the presence of alternative routes, and the need for prerequisites for it to work effectively. But please don't be fooled into believing that just because it's in the Constitution it's still Democratic, or that it'll see the light anytime soon. Mark my words, WHOEVER promised you that is playing you for your votes and toying with your emotions, for reasons that may range from gaining political clout to settling scores to simply flexing their muscles, but certainly not to effect change, and especially not overnight! It's a stupid concept to think so, not just vain or idealistic.

Then again, I reiterate what I tweeted earlier, 'Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups'.

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